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Lithium battery warning: ‘Treat them like poison’

A GYMPIE district boy has survived suspected lithium battery poisoning, after being airlifted to Brisbane for emergency treatment, a hospital spokeswoman said yesterday.

The boy, 4, was flown out of Gympie Hospital, his mother by his side, on Monday night, after possibly swallowing a lithium button battery.

He was taken to Brisbane's Lady Cilento Children's Hospital, where a spokesman said the batteries were capable of causing life-threatening internal injuries, if swallowed.

A Tewantin girl, also four, died almost two years ago in Noosa Hospital after a similar incident.

The Gympie Times reported at the time that doctors had been unable to save the girl, who had suffered severe stomach bleeding.

Gympie Regional Council health portfolio councillor and Gympie ambulance chief Wayne Sachs says batteries need to be treated like poison
Gympie Regional Council health portfolio councillor and Gympie ambulance chief Wayne Sachs says batteries need to be treated like poison Renee Pilcher

"PARENTS need to treat them like any other household poison and keep them well out of reach of children," he said.

Potentially fatal damage can begin within an hour.

They are only the size of lollies, Cr Sachs said yesterday.

"People need to be careful, especially if they notice a battery is missing from a device.

"They are very dangerous, some are easily swallowed and they can be fatal.

"Parents need to take all the same precautions that they would with any poison and keep them well out of reach of children."

A spokeswoman at Lady Cilento yesterday said the Gympie boy was now in a stable condition and was recovering.

New Zealand authorities issued a warning in 2013, soon after the Noosa Hospital tragedy, that parents did not have the luxury of simply waiting for the battery to pass, "because it's a two-hour timeframe before it actually starts to cause damage."

They said that at that time, about 20 children suffered serious internal damage every year as a result of battery ingestion.

In the US, authorities warned of electrical and chemical burns.

"If caught in the throat, the batteries send an electrical current through the tissue, eventually burning a hole in the trachea or oesophagus," according to a medical warning in the US Journal of Paediatrics.

The batteries, which are often also contained in car keys and even greeting cards, pose what has been called an invisible threat, with many parents saying they have not heard of any warnings.

American experience indicates most cases involve batteries out of remote control devices. In June 2003, four year old Tewantin girl Summer Steer died from stomach bleeding after swallowing a battery that morning.

The Gympie Times reported at the time that the batteries can be difficult to detect on an x-ray because they look like a button. It was important for parents to let doctors know that the child may have swallowed a battery.

Susan Teerds from Kidsafe Queensland said at the time of Summer Steer's death that saliva would start a chemical reaction that would burn a hole in flesh, even through to vital parts like the aorta or the spine.

Toys usually had safeguards to prevent batteries from falling out, but TV remotes and car keys were less likely to have these safeguards.

Battery poisoning

  • Effect: Ingestion can cause electrical or chemical burns in the throat, which sometimes prove fatal
  • Need for speed: Damage, potentially fatal, begins within two hours
  • First aid: Contact Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26, do not let child eat or drink, do not induce vomiting

Topics:  child safety gympie hospital

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